A husband and wife couple who owned a flight school have pleaded guilty to hiding money in a secret Swiss bank account at UBS, and then transferring the money around the world after UBS came under investigation by the U.S. government.
Sean Roberts and Nadia Roberts of Tehachapi, Calif., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii of the Eastern District of California to a criminal information charging them with filing a false tax return related to an undisclosed Swiss bank account that they maintained at UBS, as well as other offshore bank accounts, the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service said Monday.
The Robertses pleaded guilty to filing a false 2008 individual U.S. income tax return in which they failed to report that they had an interest in or a signature authority over a secret Swiss financial account at UBS, as well as several other foreign accounts, failed to report income earned on the foreign accounts, and falsely deducted transfers from their domestic business to the foreign accounts on their corporate tax returns. The false deductions allowed the Robertses to under-report their income on their individual income tax returns, according to prosecutors.
The Robertses own and operate the National Test Pilot School and Flight Research Incorporated in Mojave, Calif. The National Test Pilot School is a nonprofit educational institute that trains test pilots from domestic and foreign aerospace industries and governments. Flight Research Inc. owns and maintains most of the aircraft used by the school.
In or about 1991, the Robertses opened a bank account at an Isle of Man branch of a United Kingdom bank, in the name of a nominee entity called Interline Trade Associates Limited. From at least 2002 through 2004, the Robertses transferred funds from their company, Flight Research Incorporated of Mississippi, to the Interline account, and caused the transfers to be falsely deducted as interest payments on corporate income tax returns as a sham aircraft loan.
In or about 1995, the Robertses, with the assistance of a UBS banker, established an account in their own names at UBS in Switzerland. In 2004, the Robertses, with the assistance of an account manager at a Zurich-based financial services company, acquired a nominee Hong Kong entity called Excalibur Investments Limited and opened a new UBS account in Excalibur’s name. In July 2004, the Robertses closed the UBS account in their own names and transferred the assets to the nominee Excalibur UBS account.
In February 2005, the Robertses also closed their Interline account and, with the assistance of the Zurich account manager, transferred the assets to the Excalibur UBS account. From 2004 through 2008, the Robertses transferred more than $1.2 million from FRI Mississippi to the Excalibur UBS account, and caused the transfers to be falsely deducted as interest payments on corporate income tax returns as a sham aircraft loan.
In or about May 2008, the Robertses closed their Excalibur UBS account and, with the assistance of the Zurich account manager, transferred more than $4.8 million to an account in Excalibur’s name at a Swiss branch of a Liechtenstein bank. This was done after the account manager informed the Robertses that UBS was under investigation by U.S. authorities and that they should leave UBS to ensure the continued secrecy of their account.
In 2008, the Robertses transferred more than $1.4 million from FRI Mississippi to the Excalibur account at the Liechtenstein bank, and again caused the transfers to be falsely deducted on a corporate income tax return. Also in May 2008, the Robertses, again with the assistance of the Zurich account manager, opened a bank account in the name of Modest Winner, a nominee Hong Kong entity, at the Liechtenstein bank. In 2008 and 2009, the Robertses transferred funds from another of their entities, Tisours LLC, to the Modest Winner account. In 2009, with the assistance of the Zurich account manager, the Robertses transferred that account to a bank in Hong Kong. The Robertses also maintained numerous undeclared foreign bank accounts in New Zealand and South Africa held in their own names.
The Robertses admitted to filing false tax returns for tax years 2004 through 2008 that concealed their interest in these various offshore accounts, failing to report income earned from these accounts, and falsely deducting transfers from their business to these accounts. The Robertses also admitted that they never filed reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or FBARs, disclosing their interest in any offshore financial accounts.
As part of their plea agreements, the Robertses agreed to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $709,675, and to pay a 50 percent penalty for the one year with the highest balance in their offshore accounts in order to resolve their civil liability for failing to file FBARs, Forms TD F 90-22.1.
In February 2009, UBS entered into a deferred prosecution agreement under which the bank admitted to helping U.S. taxpayers hide accounts from the IRS. As part of their agreement, UBS provided the United States government with the identities of, and account information for, certain U.S. customers of UBS's cross-border business, including the Robertses.
Sentencing has been set for Sept. 6, 2011, and the Robertses remain free on bail pending sentencing. They each face up to three years in prison.
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